Finding new electric supplier poses new shock for consumers

Posted at: 05/12/2014 4:09 PM
Updated at: 05/13/2014 3:10 PM
By: Bill Lambdin

Recent electric bills have generated numerous consumer complaints to the public service commission.

Even though New York is a deregulated marketplace, with dozens of companies supplying power, finding the lowest cost is pretty much impossible.

Electric customers in New York can choose from a number of different supply companies. That deregulation was supposed to lower rates, but it sure doesn't seem to have worked. Just figuring out what your choices are and who offers the best price can be a nightmare.

Diane Bellanger is a single mom with a teenage daughter. As NewsChannel 13 spoke with her recently, it was about 65 degrees inside her Round Top town house. She had turned up the electric heat for us. .

“I cried,” said Bellanger. “It's basically almost an entire paycheck.”

Bellanger's latest electric bill from Central Hudson was $1,160.88. That's for the two months from mid-January to mid-March. So high she decided she had no choice but to take a second job to pay it.

“Well, around here there's limited supply of jobs and especially part time. I wound up getting a second job for minimum wage,” she explained.

Bellanger has tried to be a smart consumer. She switched supply away from Central Hudson to a company called North American Power because they promised a lower rate, less than six cents a kilowatt hour. Her latest bill, that account busting demand for almost $1,200, showed North American was getting almost 16 cents a kilowatt hour, 160 percent above the rate they were promising.

So Bellanger is switching once again, this time to Ambit Energy. Their offer had no mention of rates. Some on the sales staff have insisted they'll have a better price, but Bellanger is skeptical.

She hardly appears to be alone. If you go to the Central Hudson website and keep navigating you can find a list of 54 electric suppliers to choose from, without any listed rates.

It's no better at the largest electric delivery company in the region, National Grid. We couldn't find any list with suppliers and prices here either. They offer a link to the Public Service Commission website where more clicking gives you more lists with small type information you'll have a very tough time figuring out.

We found a third party website that appears to be sponsored by some of the supply companies. Using Bellanger's zip code it gave three different choices for Bellanger's former company North American, each quoting a rate far less than what Bellanger was charged.

If you just give up and don't make a choice the utility company will send you electricity from somewhere, although they insist they're not the supplier.

“I can't reiterate that enough is that we don't make any money on that supply costs so even with those increases, it doesn't go to us,” said Patrick Stella of National Grid.

That’s even through National Grid keeps sending out bills in those cases indicating they were the supplier of the electricity.

“The New York Independent Service Operator handles a lot of that, those purchases on behalf of all the utilities in New York State,” Stella explained.

Some of the electric suppliers offer a low introductory rate that quickly goes away.

They often buy electricity on the open market. This winter that led to some very high rates.

If you read the fine print of many of the supplier offers you'll find they don't guarantee a specific price.

Not a system that is working well for New York State consumers.